“I’m just too busy right now. Get back to me in a couple of months.” I am amazed at how often I hear words to that effect. I’ve been in business for over 30 years and have talked to thousands of business people. Being “too busy” is by far their most common condition.
We all know that there are occasional times when circumstances combine to create a situation where you just have to push through an overwhelming mountain of tasks. We really are ‘too busy.” However, those times are rare.
The more common situation is that we are addicted to activity and haven’t developed the discipline necessary to say “no” to the unessential things in our lives and prioritize those that are left. As a result, we live our lives and run our businesses in a flurry of activity, skipping from one task to another, with no end in sight.
This situation is an epidemic, unique to our age. Richard Swensen accurately described it in his book, Margin:
“The spontaneous tendency of our culture is to inexorably add detail to our lives: one more option, one more problem, one more commitment, one more expectation, one more purchase, one more debt, one more change, one more job, one more decision. We must now deal with more ‘things per person’ than at any other time in history.”
There are several problems with being too busy. Here’s a couple of the big ones:
1. We open ourselves up to allowing activity to crowd out contemplation.
In other words, we spend so much time doing, that we have little to invest in thinking about what we’re doing – whether this thing is really worth our time and energy.
The activity becomes addictive and we become automatons, forever pursuing the satisfaction of accomplishment but rarely assessing the value of that accomplishment. We do it because it’s there, not because we have decided to do it. Intentionality suffers as activity prospers.
We run the risk of living a busy life, but being busy with the wrong things. What if all these things we’re busy with really weren’t worth it? And we never saw it?
2. Mindless activity keeps us from achieving our potential.
When we do too much of the good stuff, we find ourselves rarely doing any of the best stuff. And, since we don’t invest our time where it will get the best results or use our best gifts and talents, we settle for mediocrity as a result.
Ned, the best manager I ever had, said this to me: “I’m at my best, doing my best work when I am not needed in the office. When I can shut the door and have no one need me, I can have my best impact on the business.”
I’ve found that bit of wisdom to be true. While there is a time and place to be assessable and engaged in the business, you’ll never reach your potential nor your business’s potential unless you invest in working on the business, not in the business.
Activity keeps us focused on what is, while the more effective introspection, vision-casting focuses on what could be. We generally come closer to achieving our potential, and the potential of our businesses, when we have a vision of what we could be and strive to attain that vision. We’ll never achieve what could be if we are too invested in what is.
How to overcome
1. Articulate a larger purpose.
There must be something that you want to become, something that you want to achieve, something that you want to impact that is larger and more significant than who you are and what you are doing right now. This picture of what could be can take the form of a written ‘life’s purpose’ and a business mission and vision statement.
These documents clarify and solidify a deep yearning to become more, thereby providing motivation for yourself and all your stakeholders. They can provide daily direction to bubble up the ‘best things’ in your potential task list. You could ask, for example, “Does this task bring us closer to our purpose?” If so, let’s add it to the list. If not, let’s not do it.
Every opportunity can be measured against that yardstick, providing a powerful way to prioritize everything that presents itself to you.
2. Engage in regular self-reflection.
You are only on this earth for a short time. To make the most of it, you need to soberly evaluate your unique set of gifts, talents, skills, and life experiences. We are all familiar with a SWOT business analysis. (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) There is a reason why that exercise is routinely repeated by the best organizations.
When your vision for yourself or your business is energized by a clear understanding of your personal and corporate gifting, the resulting mix will powerfully shape your life, energize your business, and move you dramatically toward achieving your potential.
That articulation of your gifts and talents can, like a vision statement, provide day-to-day direction and a means of prioritizing every task and opportunity. Ask yourself, “Does this opportunity or task fit my (our) set of gifts and experiences?” If so, it moves up on the priority list. If not, it slides down.
3. Develop discipline
To implement these two strategies, you’ll need the discipline to stop what you are doing and invest in them.
I’ve often observed that the fundamental difference between successful and unsuccessful people is discipline. Those who can harness their instincts, feeling, and thoughts and intentionally apply them are those who rise to the top of whatever pack to which they belong. They have the strength of will and soundness of character to do the best things because they know that those things will serve them well in the long run. Those who are influenced by their own urges and attractions find themselves addicted to the activity, and subject to the whims of whatever enticement appears at the moment.
4. An ongoing relationship with God.
The Bible tells us that God has a plan for each of our lives and that he “knitted us together” in the womb to be who He wanted us to be. The problem is, of course, that He also provided us with free will to make choices for ourselves. What we choose (free will) is often in conflict with what God wants for us. The solution is to create a relationship with God such that you can count on His involvement and direction in all the decisions you make along the way. If you build such a relationship, all of the issues above become easier and the outcomes of your efforts become favored. Without it, life gets tough.
One of the saddest moments I can imagine would occur towards the end of our lives when we look back on it and say, “So what?” I spent my life busy, but, alas, I was busy with the wrong things.